The Encouragement of
the Spirit of God
Dr. James T. Naismith of Scarborough, Ontario, a frequent contributor to “Food for the Flock,” is a retired physician who devotes his full time to a Bible teaching and conference ministry in Canada and the U.S.
It was not without reason that the Lord Jesus, in the course of His discourse to His disciples on the eve of His suffering on Calvary (John 13-16), spoke of the Holy Spirit as the “Comforter” on four recorded occasions (John 14:16, 26; 15:26: 16:7). Their hearts were troubled (14:1, 27; 16:6). The realization of His impending departure distressed them. They were facing a hostile world that hated, persecuted, and ultimately crucified their Master, and would treat them no better (15:18-25; 16:33). They needed encouragement! In His wonderful message to them, recorded in these chapters which have comforted and encouraged the Lord’s people in all the centuries since, the Lord gave them some very precious promises. Among these were two that are especially comforting: 1. The Prospect of Another Coming: “Let not your heart be troubled … I will come again” (14:1, 3). 2. The Presence of Another Comforter: “I will pray the Father and He shall give you another Comforter … I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (14:16, 18).
Why “Another Comforter”? Because the Speaker Himself had been their Comforter. Now, on His departure, the Spirit of God would come as “Another Comforter.” He has come, and is our divine Comforter here on earth, while the Lord Jesus, Who made the promise, is our Comforter — “Advocate” (same word) — in heaven.
The word “Comforter” is the translation of the Greek word “Parakletos,” which literally means, as we have previously seen, “called alongside” — to help. It is variously translated: “Counsellor” (NIV), “Advocate” (NEB), “Helper” (NASB), “One … to stand by you” (Phillips). Included in the meaning is: “Encourager.” Just as the early churches in Judaea, Galilee and Samaria, “walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort (paraklesis) of the Holy Spirit (NIV: “were encouraged by the Holy Spirit”) were multiplied” (Acts 9:31), so today, believers, individually and collectively, derive encouragement from the Holy Spirit in their walk with the Lord.
How does the Spirit give this encouragement? Since the Lord Himself introduced the Name “Paraklete” to describe the Holy Spirit, we may well find the answer to this question in His teaching about “the Comforter” in John 14-16:
1. By His very presence with us and within us, He is a source of encouragement. “He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever … He dwelleth with you and shall be in you” (John 14:16, 17). Repeatedly, in this discourse, the Lord spoke of His “going” from them (for example: 13:33, 36; 14:2, 3, 4, 12, 28; 16:5, 7, 16, 28), and sorrow filled their heart (16:6). But He was not going to leave them “comfortless” — orphans, bereft of their dearest Friend and greatest Support. He said: “I will come to you” (14:18) — meaning, in this context, by the Holy Spirit (though it was equally true that He came to then) after His resurrection and will come again as He promised in 14:3). While not seen with natural eyes, the Spirit is just as personal and as real as the Lord Himself, and, being God, is equal in power and wisdom. This promise to His disciples is also the experience of every Christian today. On believing, we “were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13). Our body is, even now, “the temple of the Holy Spirit” Who is in us (1 Cor. 6:19) and he will never leave us, even though we may grieve Him (Eph. 4:30), for we are “sealed unto the day of redemption.” Indeed, “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9), that is, he does not belong to Him, is not a real Christian. How encouraging to know that God, the Holy Spirit, is actually our indwelling heavenly Guest, abiding with us forever, in every vicissitude of life, and in spite of our failings and failures!
2. This abiding Companion not only encourages us by being with us, but also by teaching us. For three-and-a-half years, the greatest Teacher the world has ever heard, the Lord from heaven, had been with the disciples. What marvellous instruction He had given then): the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), the “Sermon by the Seaside” (Matt. 13), the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24, 25), and now His farewell ministry (John 13-16) — as well as His other words, recorded through the Gospels — and many not recorded! What encouragement, blessing and guidance did that teaching give then) as they listened, spellbound, to Him! But now, He is to be no longer with them! However, “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17) — another appropriate title for the “Comforter” — would instruct them in divine truth: “He shall teach you all things” (14:26). While this promise was intended primarily for the disciples who heard it, it is also true for us. The beloved disciple, who recorded the words of Jesus in the upper room, wrote, in his first epistle: “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things … the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth” (I John 2:20, 27). Evidently, the words “Unction” and “Anointing” refer to the Holy Spirit (see 2 Cor. 1:21, 22). Just as the Lord Jesus opened the eyes of the two on the Emmaus Road and the understanding of the disciples in the upper room (Luke 24:26, 27, 31, 44, 45), so the Spirit of God opens our eyes to “behold wondrous things out of Thy Law” (Ps. 119:18). May our prayer be: “Spirit of God, my Teacher be, showing the things of Christ to me!”
3. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is also one of reminding — bringing to remembrance. How prone we are to forget! The words spoken by our Lord during His earthly sojourn were too precious to lose. But how could the disciples possibly remember them all? He provided the solution: “The Comforter … shall … bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (14:26). It is to Him we should be grateful for the inspired record of the “beautiful words of Jesus, spoken so long ago,” these matchless sayings, beautiful parables and illustrations, and marvellous discourses. What He did for the disciples, He does for us — bringing to our remembrance what we have heard from and read in the Word of God. In the dark days of life, when oppressed by trials and troubles, it is His still small voice that whispers in our ears words of encouragement — sometimes words “that we have known long since and lost awhile.”
4. The Spirit of God also enables us to bear witness of the Lord Jesus: “He shall testify of Me; and ye also shall bear witness” (15:26, 27). On a previous occasion, the Lord had encouraged His disciples not to be anxious what they should speak when they were delivered up before governors and kings, “for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father Who speaketh in you” (Matt. 10:18-20). Likewise, today, in similar circumstances — or whenever we are called to witness for our Saviour — we need not be anxious, for the Spirit of God will bear witness and give us the words to speak. To fully experience this blessing, we need to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) — yielded to His control — as were the early Christians after their first persecution: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness … And with great power gave the apostles witness” (Acts 4:31, 33). Remember that the whole task of convicting those to whom we witness is not ours but His to accomplish (John 16:8-11).
5. The Holy Spirit is our divine Guide. To travel the highway of life without a Guide or guidebook is surely discouraging: but we have both. “The Spirit of truth … will guide you into all truth” John 16:13) — that is “In the way of all truth” (F. F. Bruce). Since the Lord Jesus is “the Truth” (John 14:6), and God’s Word is truth (John 17:17), it is clear that the Spirit of truth guides the people of God, who submit to His leading, in a path of following Christ, our Leader, and of obedience to the Word, our guidebook. In such a path, and with such a Guide, we cannot stray. What an encouragement it is to be guided aright!
Life’s discouragements frequently result from fear and foreboding about the future. “Peace, perfect peace — the future all unknown?” asked the hymn-writer. But those who are led by the Spirit can be encouraged as they look into the future, for “He will shew you things to come” (John 16:13). For the believer, “the future is as bright as the promises of God,” centered, as it is, in the Son of God and the prospect of His coming and our being with Him for ever.
Thus, the Spirit encourages us by being with us always, by teaching us, reminding us, bearing witness, guiding us and showing us the future. Supremely, and including all His other activities, “He shall glorify Me” (John 16:14). This is His preeminent purpose and activity. As the Son glorified the Father on earth (John 17:4), so the Spirit glorifies the Son. To all who know and love the Lord and appreciate His Person and work, there can be no greater encouragement than to have Him revealed to our hearts in all His matchless glory!